Astros again have best chance to achieve something never before seen in MLB

Three Astros could be taking home the hardware. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

No Major League Baseball team has ever produced its league’s Most Valuable Player, Cy Young Award winner, and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Plenty of teams have taken two out of three. 11 pitchers have won both MVP and Cy the same year. The 2019 Astros came as close as a team can come to the hat trick short of doing it with Yordan Alvarez unanimously taking Rookie honors, Justin Verlander edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for Cy, and Alex Bregman finishing runner-up to Mike Trout for MVP. The odds are against them but the 2022 Astros are back in the hunt for the unprecedented clean sweep. Alvarez has graduated to MVP contender. Verlander is alive and very well post-Tommy John surgery in pursuit of a third Cy. Jeremy Peña is the RoY candidate. Right now Yordan would be the only rightful winner in his race, but there are almost three months of season left to play.

With the Astros crossing into the second half of their regular season schedule with Thursday’s win over the Royals, the midway point is an easy spot to double counting stats for a full season projection. Alvarez ended the first half halfway to 50 home runs (Jeff Bagwell holds the franchise record with his 47 in 2000), then promptly belted number 26 in game 82. Yordan’s chief MVP competition is twofold. The Yankees’ Aaron Judge is the best player on what has clearly thus far been the best team. Yeah, well, Alvarez has an OPS 82 points higher. That’s a sizable margin. Though Judge is the better defender and baserunner. Then there’s the incredible Shohei Ohtani. The reigning AL MVP is basically Kyle Tucker at the plate and Framber Valdez on the mound. Think about that.

Also in game 82 Verlander logged his 11th win. Check my math: that’s more than halfway to 20. And with an earned run average at a sparkling even 2.00. Verlander could be worthy but lose out to a young Tampa Bay Rays lefthander, as he did in 2018 to Blake Snell. This year it’s 25 year old Shane McClanahan as the fly in the ointment. McClanahan carries a 9-3 record for a much lesser team, with his ERA at 1.74. Verlander is a cinch first ballot Hall of Famer, but a third Cy Young would pair nicely with his three no-hitters. Verlander has been the Cy runner-up three times. In 2012 another Ray (David Price) edged him out. In 2016 Rick Porcello of the Red Sox won because of his 22-4 record. For what it’s worth, Verlander had a higher WAR than Price in ’12 and than Porcello in ’16. Snell deserved his win in ’18.

In the rookie race Jeremy Peña is swimming upstream. He’s been outstanding overall but is clearly behind Seattle’s 21-year-old centerfield phenom Julio Rodriguez who has the better statistics in nearly every category with a real shot at a 30 homer 40 stolen base season. The only rookie ever to go 30/30? Mike Trout who went 30/49. Peña has also missed 19 games. Rodriguez has played in 83 of the Mariners’ 84 games to date. Attendance is part of the grade.

Rookie of the Year became an award in 1947, with Jackie Robinson the first recipient. In 1949 each league started having a winner. The Cy Young Award was first given in 1956. Only one winner for all of MLB was named until each league started having its own in 1967.

Midsummer Classic

The All-Star Game starters are named late Friday afternoon. How many Astros get to look forward to being booed at Dodger Stadium? The Astros have two very obvious winners in Alvarez at designated hitter and Jose Altuve at second base. For Altuve it’s All-Star nod number eight, breaking a tie with Craig Biggio for the franchise record. Altuve’s evolution is something. At 32 years old he's no longer a super-high batting average hitter and can’t run the way he did in his younger days. But there is no shame in a .280 batting average and the guy is a legit power monster. 31 homers in 124 games in 2019, 31 in 146 games last season, Altuve is on pace to set a new career high dinger number despite having already missed 17 games this season.

Topic for fuller breakdown in a future column: Altuve’s chances at finishing with 3000 hits and a .300 career batting average. The odds on either are not as good as they used to be. What is clear now though, Altuve has booked the extended peak years of a Hall of Fame career. How many numbers he adds on and which others suffer in his decline years will further shape where Altuve rates among the great second basemen of all-time.

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